Stuff breaks in the world of ultra-endurance racing. Athletes train for months on end, hoping what breaks is not a body part or the willpower to put one foot in front of the other. Elite ultra-endurance athlete Mike McKnight feels great and has all the willpower to win, but something broke: a crown he was after, the Triple Crown of 200s.
A series of three 200-mile trail running races spread out over August, September and October make up the Triple Crown of 200s. Mike is notorious for destroying records on ultra-endurance races, even his own records. He won the Triple Crown in 2017 and again in 2019. The race series was canceled in 2020. Mike told himself he wasn’t racing the Triple Crown in 2021, but after a severe case of FOMO starting nagging at him, he signed up.
On August 15th, Mike came in first place in the Bigfoot 200, the first race of the Triple Crown. With record-breaking temperatures on the Washington state course and stomach issues, this year’s Bigfoot sucked for Mike. He said he thought about quitting multiple times but knew he never would. Instead, his goals shifted from beating his previous record to the simple objective of coming in first place.
“I wasn’t extremely motivated to really push myself,” Mike said. “I wasn’t really trying to improve my time drastically, just more or less stay comfortably ahead of second and give myself time to relax.”
Mike finished the 209-mile course with a time of 57:58:22, almost six and a half hours longer than he took in 2019 when he set the course record. With conditions that hindered progress, Mike wasn’t alone in taking significantly longer to finish. The times for this year’s Bigfoot 200 were all slow.
“I usually have stomach issues if I’m not on top of my electrolytes,” Mike said. “I usually take salt pills every 30 minutes, but I forgot my salt pills at home. That first day, I hardly ate anything.”
The majority of Mike’s calories on day one came from Cherry Cola Gnarly Fuel2O. Day two and three treated Mike better, calorically speaking. He got back into his groove of eating gels, burgers, chips, hash browns and meatballs at aid stations.
Mike often downs apple juice on ultra races and won’t turn down an aid station soda water. He also has a signature Gnarly Protein recipe: one cup of heavy whipping cream with two scoops of chocolate Gnarly whey protein, topped with a bit of water.
With calories sorted out, Mike’s primary hindrance on the Bigfoot 200 was the weather. Intense temperatures led to him dipping into any water source he could find. Inevitably, this meant his feet were wet for all 57 hours and 58 minutes – a textbook for blisters.
The temps also zapped energy. “I was more drained than usual because of the sun, which meant more naps than I’m used to.” On the plus side, Mike said more sleep led to fewer hallucinations on the route, with only one encounter of knowing his pacer was a friend but unable to remember who it specifically was.
With his crew keeping him informed of how far ahead he was, Mike finished in first place, almost exactly five hours before the next competitor.
It was a grueling race, but Mike was running with someone special – Brodie. A picture of Brodie was pinned to Mike’s race bib and will be for every race of the 2021 Triple Crown. Mike’s not only running to run every race; he’s running to help find a family to adopt Brodie. At 12-years-old, Mike said Brodie’s in danger of “aging out” of the adoption system. With Down’s Syndrome, that could mean Brodie will need to spend the rest of his life in an adult mental institution in his home country of China.
In an Instagram post, Mike wrote, “The times during Bigfoot where I was deep inside my head and fighting my mental battles, I often thought of Brodie. He has spent his whole life without a family. And despite not having a family, he still is able to share this infectious smile. The least I could do is stop complaining that my stomach hurt and press forward for him.”
The broken crown of 2021
When I talked to Mike about how Bigfoot went, he was back home in Utah recovering and preparing for his favorite Triple Crown race – The Tahoe 200. “Honestly, I’m not that sore after Bigfoot,” Mike said. “It’s just a crazy level of fatigue. I’ll get eight to nine hours of sleep a night, and when I wake up, I’m just as tired as when I went to bed.”
One sleep later, one extra day of recovery, and one day closer to Tahoe, the organizers of the Triple Crown dropped some bad news. A wildfire was ripping through part of the race course, and air quality was too dangerous to run in. Tahoe was canceled, turning the Triple Crown into a double crown.
“I was excited and committed to go after my ‘Triple Triple’ this year,” Mike said. “No one has ever done the Triple Crown three times. Plus, Tahoe is my favorite course out of the three. It definitely hurts. But, I feel even more sorry for the people who have never done Tahoe or the Triple. I am coaching four athletes who are doing the Triple Crown, and they are devastated.”
A sub-50 in Moab
At the start of this year, Mike only signed up for the Moab 240, wanting to race fully charged to have the best chance at breaking the current course record of 57:55:13 hours set by Courtney Dauwalter in 2017. “I wanted to do Moab fully rested and tapered and go after a sub-50-hour,” Mike said. He eventually signed up for the full Triple Crown. Although the Tahoe cancelation was a blow to everyone involved, Mike is focused on using recovery time to better prepare for the 240-mile course in Moab. “I think this is the universe’s way of letting me reset my mind, recover, and go after that sub-50-hour at Moab,” Mike said.
Mike’s finishing time at the Moab 240 in 2019 holds the men’s record on the course at 59:30:12.
We’re incredibly psyched to cheer on Mike’s effort and wish him all the best in his attempt at winning the Triple-Turned-Double-Crown of 2021.